National Poetry Day kicks off, with a call to ‘say it with a poem’

The Prince of Wales, Joanna Lumley and PJ Harvey alongside a host of much-loved poets and spoken-word artists get ready to enjoy, discover and share poetry

40 BBC Local Radio stations engage 40 poets to celebrate England’s best-loved local landmarks – in verse

National Poetry Day, the world’s greatest celebration of poetry, will see a mass outbreak of verse today, as railway stations, pubs, post offices, schoolchildren, scientists and police forces all rise to the challenge to ‘say it with a poem’. 

In keeping with this year’s theme - Messages – everyone is invited to use favourite poems to send the messages that matter most, from Thank you and Sorry to I love you and Help! 

Kicking off the celebrations, The Prince of Wales, as an admirer of the work of Seamus Heaney, will read one of his poems ‘The Shipping Forecast’ on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.  The recording has been specially created for Seamus Heaney HomePlace, a newly-opened centre in Northern Ireland which showcases the poet’s life and work in an interactive exhibition.

The Royal Mail is postmarking millions of items of mail nationwide with National Poetry Day on 6 October: an honour reserved only for special occasions and significant events.

In the spirit of W.H. Auden, who said a poet’s hope is ‘to be, like some valley cheese, local, but prized elsewhere’, the 40 stations of BBC Local Radio are marking National Poetry Day by each broadcasting a poem commissioned from 40 #BBClocalpoets in an unprecedented lyrical mapping of the English landscape. Each poet has adopted the voice of a characteristic local landmark or mascot: these range from a Lincolnshire sausage (Gemma Baker, BBC Radio Lincolnshire) to the potholes of Britain’s least-appreciated road, the A12, (Luke Wright, BBC Radio Suffolk), via Brighton’s West Pier, Newcastle’s Tyne Bridge and London’s iconic Tube Map. Collectively, these poems document the distinctiveness of local England with wit, humour and defiantly non-standard accents and dialects. The initiative is supported by Forward Arts Foundation and Apples and Snakes.

Channel 4’s continuity team will be giving the mic to two teenage poets – 18-year-old Vivien Urban originally from Hungary and 19-year-old Shukria Rezaei originally from Afghanistan - have been invited to become the voice of Channel 4 for the day. Their poems will replace the introduction on the idents throughout the day.

In London, poets and poetry readings abound. The Poetry Society and Southbank Centre are handing over the reins of the year’s biggest poetry events of the year to young poetry producers who will curate a day of free poetry readings, films, performances and workshops featuring the Mercury Prize-winning artist PJ Harvey, and Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell Meanwhile at The Bloomsbury Hotel, Poet in the City will be hosting a Poetry Breakfast with prize-winning poet Sarah Howe. 

St Pancras International station is to become Poetry Central for the day, in partnership with the Betjeman Poetry Prize, Poet in the City and Maslaha. Poetry-printed train tickets will be distributed to travellers and poet storytellers will be stationed throughout St Pancras engaging passing commuters and visitors in immersive poetry experiences using new and old Landais (a form of poetry written in Afghanistan).The Betjeman prize-giving this afternoon, hosted by poet Imtiaz Dharker, will see six young talents recite their work, alongside a reading from Joanna Lumley. The evening will bring live poetry pop-ups, interactive events, and performances from poets Bridget Minamore and Sabrina Mahfouz. London’s underground stations – notably Covent Garden and Oval – will be sharing poems with travellers throughout the day.

In Staffordshire, Sally Crabtree, the world’s first Poetry Postie, is using carrier pigeons to fly verse across the skies. In Edinburgh, a highly unusual answerphone is turning anonymous messages into poems: in Bradford, poetry films will feature on the Bradford Big Screen in Centenary Square, while in Antarctica, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey will share a climate change poem by Nancy Campbell with the only audience available for miles: penguins. 

In Wales four young poets will be locked up to compose 100 poems in twenty four hours, on subjects chosen by the public. The participants in Literature Wales’ Her 100 Cerdd will take suggestions via social media and BBC Radio Cymru, posting the results online.

In Scotland, 380,000 poetry postcards have been given away by the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, while in Glasgow, the Big Issue is working with Glasgow Libraries to mobilise poets, librarians, street vendors and Creative Scotland colleagues to give poetry readings at 30 different locations around the city.  

In Northern Ireland, Funeral Services Northern Ireland celebrates National Poetry Day with the finals of the Ireland National Poetry competition at the Parliament Buildings in Stormont. 

“A poem can reach places that prose just can’t. That’s why we’re inviting all with anything important to say today, to say it with a poem. It can be new or old, utterly original or a familiar favourite. It can be deep and dark, funny or memorable. By enjoying, discovering or sharing a poem – words that draw attention to themselves - you change the nature of the national conversation.”
— Susannah Herbert, National Poetry Day director

Expect impromptu pop-up poetry festivals in thousands of unexpected places, from shops, streets and offices to doctors’ waiting rooms and postal sorting offices. J K Rowling, Paul McCartney, Stephen Hawking, George RR Martin and Ellen DeGeneres are among the hundreds of thousands of poetry-lovers who last year shared poems they loved on National Poetry Day via Twitter.  The hashtag #nationalpoetryday had a 522 million reach, trending across the globe on the day.

National Poetry Day is co-ordinated by the Forward Arts Foundation, a charity that celebrates poetry and promotes it as part of everyday life.

With Macmillan Children’s Books, it has nominated 14 poets as National Poetry Day Ambassadors, with special responsibility for igniting enthusiasm nationwide by visiting schools, organizing events and competitions and writing new work on the theme of Messages. Their new poems have been collected as a free downloadable eBook Messages: A National Poetry Day Book available from the National Poetry Day website, alongside posters, lesson plans and specially commissioned ‘Say it with a poem’ images from artist Sophie Herxheimer.